Review – Nine Stones Close – Diurnal

Nine Stones Close was conceived in 2008 as a solo project by Adrian Jones, the first CD, ‘St Lo’, was independently released in the Netherlands. Adrian received critical acclaim and visibility which inspired him the 2010 follow up ‘Traces’. The project grew into a band for when Adrian joined up with Brendan Eyre, Marc Atkinson and Neil Quarrell. 2012’s ‘One Eye on the Sunrise’ saw a further evolution of the band with returning members Atkinson and Eyre now joined by Peter Vink on bass and Pieter van Hoorn on drums.

In 2016 ‘Leaves’ featured a new line up; Adrian Jones and Pieter van Hoorn were joined by vocalist Adrian (Aio) O’Shaughnessy, Christiaan Bruin on keyboards and Peter Groen on bass. This album saw yet another evolution in the band’s sound, putting a new twist on an already unique and distinctive sound. In 2024, after a forced hiatus, the band has further evolved along with the music. Adrian Jones is joined by returning members Brendan Eyre, Adrian (Aio) O’Shaughnessy and Christian Bruin, alongside an energetic and skillful new rhythm section, Lars Spijkervet on drums and Joachim van Praag on bass.

A hugely inspired, creative and productive period of writing and recording led to the completion of two new albums, ‘Diurnal’ and ‘Adventures In Anhedonia’, both scheduled to be released in 2024.

Diurnal’ reflects on the arc of a day, and some of the internal dilemmas we all deal with from time to time. The album takes you from the uplifting dawn of a new day full of hope and beauty, through the high and lows of events and thoughts as the day’s events unfold, and finally to the moments of reflection as the sun sets at the end of the day.

If there is one phrase I could use to describe ‘Diurnal’ it would be emotively powerful, from the first notes of Birds, Insects and Kites you get a reflective feel but, as this intelligent instrumental builds, Adrian’s thunderous, bluesy guitar takes centre stage and it erupts into something much more primeval, aided and abetted with skill by the dynamic rhythm section. It is one hell of a powerful way to open an album and will have you awake and attentive, ready for the feast of music that is to come. The Veil is a short, connecting, instrumental piece that leaves a ghostly feeling of Scandinavian noir to my ears, all mysterious and questioning and sets the scene perfectly for the first track released from the album, the moody and pensive Ghosted. It’s a cultured piece of music that wouldn’t be out of place on a Pink Floyd album as Adrian Jones channels his inner Gilmour. Adrian O’Shaughnessy’s smoky hued, measured vocals are perfect for the mellow and undemanding mood that this über-stylish song invokes. The keyboards, drums and bass wash reflectively over you as Jones’ fine guitar playing just adds additional class to what is a really good track indeed.

This fine album, a refined melting pot of progressive rock, hard rock and metal, continues with the primeval brilliance of Angel of Flies, a track so heavy that it must have been hewn straight out of granite. Another song that builds up suspensefully before a grating, edgy guitar line and sumptuous bass break out, adding to the nervous anticipation. O’Shaughnessy’s voice just adds to the heaviness and has, to my ears anyway, a touch of Glenn Hughes at the height of his vocal powers and gives the track a subtle feel of early Led Zep in places (well, Led Zep on steroids maybe!), a feel that is enhanced by Jones’ outstanding guitar playing. There’s a real quality to the music, impressive songwriting and impeccable musicianship (a nod to the highly effective new rhythm section here) that just draws you in to the band’s immersive musical world. In Remembrance is another connective piece that just slows the heart rate down with its melancholy fragility, leaving you ready for the epic brilliance of Frustration-Sedation, at just under twelve minutes, a powerful, compelling and potent musical journey that hits you with its sonic magnitude from the first note. It’s a sinuous piece of music that ebbs and flows from a slow burning, pulsating rhythm, through moments of reflection to a soaring musical grandeur. A majestic soundscape of crushing guitars, thunderous drums and potent bass lines, all coordinated perfectly by O’Shaughnessy’s fine vocal performance.

Golden Hour is a blues-tinged ninety seconds of wistful nostalgia that leads into the album closing Dusk, a more introspective and insightful track that has me in the Mojave Desert at night, back against a Joshua tree and looking up at the impossible clarity of the sky and the brightness of the stars and contemplating my place in the universe. A sultry, bluesy guitar and a yearning, wistful vocal are the core of this song, a nostalgic, almost melancholy piece of music with a marvellously expansive soundscape and a mighty fine way to bring things to a close.

‘Diurnal’ has to be one of the most imposing and impressive releases I’ve heard this year. Nine Stones Close have returned with a new line-up and firing on all cylinders and have created what, to me, is their finest album yet. A wonderfully direct, dynamic and energetic listen from beginning to end and one that will be on many best of the year lists come December 2024, I highly recommend it.

Released 11th July, 2024.

Order from bandcamp here:

Diurnal | Nine Stones Close (bandcamp.com)

Review – Focus – Focus 12 – by John Wenlock-Smith

Focus need little or no introduction to most folks, I would imagine. Although most of that Knowledge will be a familiarity with either Hocus Pocus, Sylvia or House Of The King, all of which come from their heyday in the early 1970’s, some 50 plus years ago. Well, Focus are still very much an ongoing concern with Thijs Van Leer at the helm and still very active for a 75 year old man, Pierre Van Der Linden is actually 78 and still a very powerful drummer.

This album is unsurprisingly Focus’s 12th official studio album, although there have been a few more recent live releases like ‘Live At The Robin’, ‘Live In Europe’, from around 2010, and the excellent ‘Live in Rio’ which had a bonus album of the Focus numbered tracks Focus 1 to Focus 11, entitled ‘Completely Focused’ and was a great addition to their catalogue.

Which brings us back to this new album from the Dutch veterans and possibly Holland’s most legendary band. ‘Focus 12’ is an album of ten tracks mostly written by Thijs Van Leer but produced by the younger guard of band members Udo Panakeet (bass) and Menno Gootljes (guitar), who also contribute two compositions on the album. This fresh perspective is all part of keeping the music fresh and exciting. However I’m not entirely convinced that this works the way it should or could have, let’s listen and I’ll try to explain my feelings about this album more fully.

The album begins with Ford Focus, which I guess is not about the long standing production model of vehicle. Well it certainly is a sprightly little number and one that sets you up for what is to follow. Which, in this case, is Focus 13, this is the latest in the continuing series of numbered instrumental tracks. Again, this is certainly pleasant enough but initially fails to really ignite and capture the listener. There’s a nice guitar tone and lines but, thankfully, the latter part of the track gains in both pace and intensity which really redeems things. Bela opens with a graceful piano melody which really shines but is then overtaken by a highly mixed guitar line from Menno that ties into the piano melody, Thijs then switching to Hammond organ to provide a counterpoint melody. This track is good, if a tad pedestrian in its pacing, it has a really great sound though.

Meta Indefinita has some great tones including a plucked bass part playing harmonics, some dirty growling guitar parts and the percolating percussion of Pierre Van Der Linden. I suspect this is the totally improvised track on the album, as it seems to fit the bill. Thijs Van Leer’s flute floats over the top of it all and Menno adds more countrified licks, which is a good touch and works well, it’s pretty good, all told, and definitely shows good intentions. All Aboard is an even tempo piece with a good bass line from Udo and some fine, fluid guitar from Menno which morphs into a harder section that closes the track out. Born To Be You is a brief piano vignette that, while pleasant enough, adds little to what has gone before, even when the rest of the band join in. Nura is initially pedestrian until around the ninety second mark when it comes alive with real power and energy to become something a little more special and interesting.

Bowie fares a lot better as it is a bit more interesting, Whether it is a tribute to David Bowie or something entirely different is really not clear as the bulk of the track is a long solo piano piece from Thijs, it is beautifully performed though, it must be said. Quite why Focus have chosen this approach is slightly baffling to me as many folks will not listen long enough to enjoy the changes of pacing. The penultimate track, Positano, is another case in point, the initial part leading you into a false sense of security with mainly gentle guitar lines and piano before, around the two minute mark, everything changes for the better as a crashing guitar riff enters the fray, bass and drums pile in as does Thijs’ flute. Again, it’s all very good indeed but a bit late in the day, I expect excitement nearer the start of the track. Gaia is the album’s final track and this starts with a sultry organ part and some great ensemble playing with little guitar fills from Menno being added. It is not until halfway through that the track gains any urgency or even intensity as, until then, it has been very pedestrian. Menno adds some almost country style guitar fills which enlivens things a little but it’s all a little to late to save the track for me.

Now I must say that I am working from a download and the final album may flow a lot better. I guess I won’t know till I get my own CD and see for myself but, based on this, I’m sad to say that this album fails to capture the imagination fully and is not really up to the stands one expects of a band like Focus. The cover from Roger Dean is, of course, splendid but I just wanted more from this album somehow…

Released 5th July, 2024.

Order from Burning Shed here:

Focus (burningshed.com)

Review – LUNEAR – from above

Keyboardist/singer Paul J.No and vocalist/drummer Sebastien Bournier have known each other for twenty years. They’ve been playing on each others records for a long time and a few years ago they decided to write songs together. Lyrics and musical ideas were exchanged and before they knew it 8 songs were born. Both realised fairly quickly that they needed another soul to cover their weaknesses i.e. guitars, bass and mix. Luckily, Sebastien knew the perfect gem and invited his old friend Jean-Philippe Benadjer to come aboard. Jean-Philippe gladly agreed and contributed beautiful guitars and bass as well as music for two new songs, thus completing the 10 songs of the first Lunear album ‘Many Miles Away’.

Of the new album, ‘from above’, the band had this to say, “We don’t like to repeat ourselves too much and try to offer different albums each time. ‘Many miles away’ was a classic song album, ‘Curve.Axis.Symmetry’ a concept album and ‘Gostraks’ an album of covers all linked together. It was time to try something else.”

To paint the picture, ‘from above’ is four tracks, one of which is over twenty-five minutes long, that’s a prog epic if ever I heard of one and definitely right up my street so let’s delve a bit further into this intriguing band’s latest offering…

It takes confidence to open a four track album with the twenty-five minute prog epic centrepiece and this trio have plenty of that, In their eyes immediately immerses the listener in sweeping soundscapes and wistful vocals. There’s a cinematic feel to proceedings as the elegant keyboards and refined drums provide a wonderful palette of sounds on which the band can build this rather fine piece of music. One of the immediate highlights for me are the elegant and cultured vocals that run throughout the album but the skill with which Lunear build layers of lush, sophisticated and polished music has to be admired. Is it a prog epic? Well, there’s definitely touches of progressive rock to the track but it is more than just that, it’s a fine song that draws the listener into this creative trio’s musical world, a world in which you’re happy to stay and take your time, enjoying the theatre and drama on show.

Let’s see how the band follow up that brilliant track? the second song on the album is Cathedral and, once again, Lunear show just what excellent storytellers they are as a church organ opens the track, building the anticipation before a hushed piano line takes up the tale. This sublimely restrained piece of music then begins to build with a questioning guitar and more dynamic vocal to give a feel of British prog icons IQ to my ears. The cleverly constructed songs and charismatic, compelling music are a joy to listen to and are leaving a real impression on me. So let’s go is the shortest track on the album and is almost like a musical amuse bouche as the gentle, thoughtful music flows over with feelings of sepia tinged nostalgia, a time when everything was a lot less complicated. It’s a lovely, contemplative track, full of bonhomie, that really leaves its mark on you. The album closes with the melancholy wonder of The tears of nostalgia, a sorrow filled vocal and delicate acoustic guitar set the scene and tug at your heartstrings with their sparse beauty. Refined synthesisers and a pensive piano lead to a thoughtful atmosphere that just builds with a wishful yearning before the music bursts force with a powerful riff and energetic drum beat that envelopes you and engages you on a moving and impassioned musical journey. It’s a really poignant and emotive way to close out what has been a singular experience.

It’s always a joy to me to hear new music that is as profound and moving as this. With ‘From above’, Lunear have delivered an album that is, for me, an unexpected joy and a highlight in a year that has already delivered some very stellar releases indeed!

Released May 16th, 2024.

Download or stream the album here:

from above by Lunear (songwhip.com)

Order from bandcamp here:

from above | Lunear (bandcamp.com)

Review – Airbag – The Century of the Self

“Prepare to embark on an auditory journey like no other as Norwegian prog-rock maestros Airbag unleash their highly anticipated sixth studio album, ‘The Century Of The Self’. Showcasing their trademark fusion of mellow introspection and dynamic energy, from the mesmerising depths of Dysphoria to the haunting crescendo of Tyrants And Kings, each track captivates with irresistible vocal hooks and virtuosic lead guitar work that has become synonymous with the Airbag sound.”

Let me first put in a disclaimer before you read this review, I am a huge fan of Airbag and Bjørn Riis‘ solo work but I will be as objective as I can throughout.

Right, now we’ve got that out of the way, let us begin…

‘The Century of the Self’ is an album that stands as a testament to the artistic vision and enduring creativity that Airbag bring to their music. Touching on themes such as cancel culture and the rewriting of personal histories, it is a reflection on modern society’s zeitgeist, and a poignant commentary of today’s world, which is steeped in fear and condemnation.

Those words really got me excited when I read the promo email that came from the band’s label, Karisma. I have been an admirer of the lush soundscapes created by this wonderful band since I first heard their debut album, ‘Identity’, back in 2009 and they have matured like a fine wine ever since. Their discography of five studio albums prior to this latest release has some absolute gems like ‘All Rights Removed’ and ‘Disconnected’ but every Airbag release is a superb auditory experience.

Let’s cut to the chase, ‘Century of the Self’ is another brilliant album but one that maybe has a more edgier, in your face attitude than the earlier releases. Through its five tracks we go through the whole gammut of powerful, hypnotic bass lines, powerful riffs and thunderous drumming to a lightness of touch and contemplation and everything in between. It is as complete a listening experience as you will get and will excite Airbag fans both old and new.

The slow burning, edgy Dysphoria will keep you on edge with Bjørn Riis‘ coruscating guitar lines and Kristian Hultgren’s superbly metronomic bass lines. Add in the elegant drums of Henrik Bergan Fossum and Asle Tostrup’s hypnotic vocals and we are already onto a winner, this is Airbag turned up to eleven! A standout track on a album of killer tunes, the wonderful Tyrants and Kings ebbs and flows with an elegance and precision that is a joy to hear. Riis’ guitar playing, ably assisted by Ole Michael Bjørndal, is as intense and scintillating as ever and literally stops you in your tracks and Tostrup’s haunting vocal delivery is just a delight. This is Airbag at their magnificent best and it’s a pleasure to hear them delivering songs of such calibre, even after fifteen years together. This is music that you need to listen to with no distractions to get the best from every note and the solo at the end is just about damn perfect! I spoke about a lightness of touch and contemplation earlier and that is what you get on the wistfully refined Awakening, a song that just dances lightly over your emotions and leaves a feeling of calmness and joy in your heart. Asle Tostrup delivers a near perfect vocal performance full of pathos, passion and poignancy, “Wake up and feel again…” a line that says so much. The guitar is ethereal and contemplative, breaking out into a plaintive and ardent solo that really touches your heartstrings. It’s just an exquisite and uplifting piece of music that will really leave its mark on you.

Things get a lot more primeval and edgy with Erase, the stylishly mesmerising bass line and Tostrup’s vocals spellbinding in their delivery and grabbing your attention. The restless, tense atmosphere is created by the terse drum beat and cacophonic guitar riff before the mood gets even more chaotic when Riis opens up with some dissonant and jarring licks and another superb solo that raises the roof. The album closes with the epic conclusion of Tear It Down, fourteen minutes of music that goes from serene introspective self-reflection to some of the most forceful and compelling music that the band have ever written. The track opens with a mellow, reflective vibe that sees synth lines and a ghostly guitar just wash over you, Asle’s voice a soothing presence along with the refined drum beat. Everything then opens up with dynamic and vibrant section that almost raises the hairs on your neck before we return back to the calm serenity of before, the track ebbing and flowing between the two in perfect harmony. A special shout out must be given to Simen Valldal Johannessen whose keyboards on this song are exceptional but you just need to let the music do its work and immerse yourself in the experience, the guitar solo that closes out the track, and the album, is particularly memorable

‘Century of the Self’ is a mesmerising and involving odyssey that elevates you to a musical nirvana that not many artists can create. Airbag are one of those bands that just seem to get better with age and this new release just might be their best album yet, and that’s saying something!

Released 14th June, 2024.

Buy the album from Burning Shed here:

Airbag (burningshed.com)

Or from bandcamp here:

The Century of the Self | Airbag (bandcamp.com)

A day in the life, The Gift return revitalised – new single, ‘Think Of England’, released and details of new album, ‘Seven Seasons’, announced…

What have Mike Morton and The Gift been up to since ‘Antenna’ was released?

So much has happened to the world since ‘Antenna’ came out, it was released early in the summer of 2019 and as soon as it was released David Lloyd decided he wanted to leave! I felt something was amiss with Dave because he was quite frustrated throughout the recording of ‘Antenna’, largely because he wanted to move quicker.

As a band of six people, it was always difficult getting us together, all of us did jobs that were demanding and most of us had kids. It was like herding cats, getting us to rehearse but we did. We said to David Elliott at BEM that we’d get the album ready for delivery in June and Dave (Lloyd), being the producer, did night after night of mixing, working against the clock, and I think he was burnt out because we over promised on the deadline.

Neil Hayman, our drummer, was really loyal to Dave also frustrated by the lack of rehearsal and so he left. So that was another big thing. As soon as we launched it (Antenna), the band lost two key members. We replaced Neil with Joseph (my son) who brought a lot to the sound because he’s got a good swing to this play and Leroy (James) managed to fill the sound out with just one guitar.

Then we were about to play a whole series of gigs in 2020 when you know what happened, lockdown! We’d recovered from losing a key member and then literally nothing except band zooms for almost two years! I will say that through that time, those two years, I was writing, I sat down at the piano, picked up my guitar and wrote. So, in the absence of The Gift activity for that time, I built up these songs. In 2022 the five man band did a few gigs but Leroy said that he wanted to pursue different types of music and bowed out and so did Gabri.

I really wanted to record these songs I’d written, they became the story of a life from beginning to end and I like stories, they also got me through the lockdown. I think ‘Awake and Dreaming’ still works because it is a story, all the best music has a story behind it. We did consider pausing The Gift and me doing this as a solo project but they decided in the end to leave and we are all still friends. We recruited Ben Croft on keyboards, had Chris Taylor on drums, Stef Dickers has always been with me and we recruited Chris Tortoioli on guitar. This version of the band did its first gig at the Nene Valley Rock Festival last September and has been working steadily on the new album since.

‘Seven Seasons’ is an album that was inspired by a song on ‘Antenna’ called Back To Eden. David called it an epic in five minutes and wondered if I’d read Shakespeare’s ‘Seven Seasons of Man’ before I wrote it, a piece by Shakespeare that charts seven seasons of a life. I decided that I would take that story and make a whole album based on it. It’s split into ‘The Seven Seasons Suite’ and three other songs at the end that stand outside of it. The suite starts with an overture and then the first part, Coming Down To Land, a gentle ballad about a baby arriving and the infant years. The second part, Baby Blue Eyes, is about going to school, taken from the idea of ‘Little Boy Blue Come Blow Your Horn’ and that, while school is essential, it can crush your spirit if you go to the wrong place. The third part, Sweet Bird of Youth which, itself, is the name of a Tennessee Williams, is about when you leave the clutches of school or college and are in your prime, you’ve got a job and are dating, the testosterone is rushing around your system, the world is your oyster, my son! The fourth, Lay Your Heart On Me, is about falling in love and settling down, love and marriage. It’s a gentle song. Part five is the midlife crisis song, Yours Sincerely. It’s about feeling yourself age and your efforts being wasted as your relationship breaks down. It’s entirely autobiographical and it’s quite cynical, an epic about the mid-life dark point. There’s an instrumental interlude which leads in to part six, Evensong, a song that’s very dear to me. It’s another gentle ballad about old age and probably the most Genesis-like, they are a big influence to me. It’s about an old man looking back over his life, he’s benign now and sees it all as learning. He’s wiser and not holding on to things any more. The last part, part 7, is about end of life and is called Where We’re From, a lot of work went into it and it’s a big song. It’s not a religious song but it is hopeful.

The three other songs at the end that stand outside of the suite are Keep Calm And Carry On, which is a crazy instrumental, Harbour Lights, which is a love song and then Think Of England ends the album.

Think Of England will be the first single and this song is saying that Brexit was a very bad idea! It’s outside of the main song suite on the album because it is a stand alone topic, it is a lament for some of the collective decisions that this country has taken. It’s not an angry song and it’s not saying that those who voted to leave the EU were foolish, it takes a fairly careful line. The song comes from the Victorian idea of ‘Close your eyes and think of England’, the idea that we are being violated by some of the decisions that are being made at the top. I like to think it’s slightly hopeful at the end, that we will find a better way, “Wait for miracles again”.

It’s saying that because we cling to the past and archaic, unhelpful ideas of what England particularly is about, it doesn’t make us very happy. There’s three verses to it; the first verse is about a disaster capitalist who profited from the financial crisis of 2008 and just plays our economy like a casino, the second verse is about someone who’s clinging to a world that’s gone and will be bitterly disappointed when these sunlit uplands do not materialise and the final verse is about an enigmatic woman on the streets. It’s compassionate towards her because she’s the one that’s really struggling to get by. It’s not a cheerful single! It kind of flips what a lot of so-called prog songs do, the ones from the classic genre that start quiet and get more intense and aggressive as they go along the gentle beginning and the ferocious climax. This five minute single flips that, it starts with heavy guitars and is quite aggressive, it may surprise people. It’s not metal but it punches your face hard but, by the time it gets to the third verse, it becomes a piano elegy and so the end is really soft. It’s almost like all the anger has gone and all that’s left is sadness. There’s anger in this song but I’m not pointing the finger as we have enough division already. I’m asking look at where we are now, are we making sensible choices as a nation? This is just a song of regret.

Watch the video for Think Of England here:

Review – Returned to The Earth – Stalagmite Steeple

“Music is the language of the spirit. It opens the secret of life bringing peace, abolishing strife.”Kahlil Gibran.

‘Stalagmite Steeple’ is the follow-up to UK Progressive Rock outfit Returned To The Earth’s critically acclaimed release ‘Fall of the Watcher’, the new album is another intriguing journey through main man Robin Peachey’s particular take on life.

Robin Peachey on the new album:
“The writing for ‘Stalagmite Steeple’ began in late 2020 during the recording of Fall Of The Watcher, my previous album. It’s been a 2 1/2 year recording process to get the album finished and I have worked again with Paul Johnston as producer/engineer/additional musician. Steve Kitch (The Pineapple Thief) has again mastered the album for me.”

There are some albums that just resonate with you from the first note and, for me, ‘Stalagmite Steeple’ is one of those such releases. It is a collection of glorious pieces of music that are more than just songs. They resonate with you on a basic level, the music is immersive, reflective and just darn beautiful! Robin’s vocals remind me of Tim Bowness, they just relax you, his delivery is so soothing and mellifluous that it transfixes and mesmerises you. There is a rhythmic, hypnotic beauty to the music that leaves you in a much better place than where you were before you heard it.

Each song is a small nugget of perfection, album opener Dark Morality came about when Robin saw a story about an elderly couple who were separated during the first Covid lockdown and unfortunately the lady passed away from natural causes. He found it incredibly sad that we couldn’t find a way to bring loved ones together in their final moments during this difficult period of our history. Robin didn’t want this event to be marked by just a single song so it formed the backdrop for the whole album. There’s a hushed reverence to the song, a veneration in the vocals that is picked up by the glorious music, music that just seems to flow serenely over your aural senses. There is a wonderfully uplifting guitar solo that sends a tingle down your spine (something that occurs frequently during the album) and you just know that this exquisite track is going to be the start of something very special. The pensive, almost melancholy opening to The Final Time has a fragile grace engendered by the strings and Robin’s almost melancholic vocal. You can almost touch the pathos and emotion in this song, it has wistful, nostalgic yearning deep at its core and an ethereal quality that makes it feel gossamer thin.

The songwriting and musicianship on this album is utterly sublime and it flows perfectly as title track Stalagmite Steeple opens with a haunting piano and synthesiser before the refined vocals begin. Peachey says of the track, “It’s a track about grief but continuing to move forward despite the pain. It’s the longest of the six tracks on the album and the idea was to write a song where it continued to evolve and change throughout and no section would repeat.” It is a perfect example of how to write progressive rock track that will live long in the memory as it builds slowly before an outpouring of emotion contained in a transcendent guitar solo that just blew me away. The track then takes on an edgy, solemn air with a repeated piano refrain backed by almost intangible strings leading Robin’s reflective vocals and then plays out to a close with a demonstrative and expressive guitar adding a steely core, a truly memorable piece of music that left me pondering life and everything else for quite a long time. You know I mentioned that Robin has a touch of the Tim Bowness about his vocals? Well that’s no more apparent than on the dreamlike wonder of Meaningless To Worth, a contemplative and reflective piece of music that would have graced any of the aforementioned musician’s recent releases. Sparse guitar tones and dreamy keyboards wash over you as Robin’s hypnotic voice draws you in to this gloriously crafted work of art, as irresistible as it is fulfilling.

This breathtaking album just keeps on giving as the sombre, dulcet tones of Die For Me begin, another plaintive, almost mournful song that steps gracefully through your life. I didn’t think that Robin’s voice could get more yearning in character but it is almost spiritual on this ever so dignified track where the subtle strings and meticulous keyboards give a rarefied air and the way the track closes out is just superlative. Unfortunately this stunning musical journey has to come to an end sometime and it does so in style with the bewitching The Raging Sea which adds passion warmth and sentiment to an already fabulous collection of songs. There’s a divine guitar solo that reaches to the heavens and the stellar musicianship we’ve come to expect. A fine way to bring things to a close and leave you with hope in your heart and a smile on your face.

Robin Peachey and Returned To The Earth may not be well known to most people out there but, with the utterly magnificent, transcendental brilliance of ‘Stalagmite Steeple’ they deserve to be up there in the higher pantheon of progressive rock. You will not hear many better albums of any genre this year and I implore you to seek it out and add it to your own music collection, you will never ever regret doing so!

Released 14th June, 2024.

Order the CD from GEP here:

Returned To The Earth – Stalagmite Steeple – GEP

Review – Kaipa – Sommargryningsljus – by John Wenlock-Smith

‘Sommargryningsljus’ is the 15th, and latest, from Swedish outfit Kaipa who have been in existence for over 50 years. Whilst they may now have been active for all 50 of those years, when they do regroup and re-emerge, they offer something new and fresh. This new album is a step further for the band after the excellent ‘Urskog’ from 2022, which I reviewed favourably for Progradar, being captivated by its lush symphonic textures and sounds. ‘Sommarskymningsljus’ continues this in a similar vein and sounds really lush, fans of Swedish symphonic prog will find much to appreciate here.

The album begins gently with Sommarskymningsljus, the beautifully clear and expressive voice of Aleena Gibson rising over an expressive melody from Hans Lundin, it is an engaging number that leads us into the equally captivating epic Seven Birds, which builds in a very satisfying way. Layers of sound make for an interesting track with excellent vocals from Aleena again, the mid section has a fine, lengthy keyboard excursion leading into a brief but exciting guitar break from Per Nilsson. A second longer solo occurs later in the song, where Per and Hans play in tandem delivering a great sounding track. Like Thousand Dawns is greatly enlivened by the excellent bass playing from Jonas Reingold, who is very busy on this, track adding foundation and definitions to the track. The song has another stellar vocal from Aleena Gibson, whose powerful vocal is actually a thing of beauty here. The mid part of the track has a twisting, turning part which, again, gives bassist Jonas a chance to impress and he does admirably, leaving room for a few short but dynamic guitar fills from Per Nilsson. It’s another epic song from Kaipa, proving, once again, that their brand and style of progressive rock is both worthwhile and entertaining.

It’s worth pointing out that of the albums 9 tracks, Six are over nine minutes in duration. This means this is an album that will require your involvement and an investment of your time that you will not regret one bit, for this album is full of superb tracks with some excellent extended musical passages featuring the expressive and poignant violin of Elin Rubinsztein and the recorders and whistles of Frederick Lindquist and it greatly benefits from these guest appearances.

Chased by Wolves And Burned By The Sun is another lengthy track with more great violin parts, giving a slight tone of Kansas to proceedings (no bad thing to these ears!) and another chance for some muscular bass lines from Jonas whilst Per provides the insistent riff that underpins the song. I really like the dynamics of this track as it uses the counterpoint of the instruments to really allow the track to evolve and shine, it really is utterly engrossing. Spiderweb Train dates from the 1990’s, as does second track Seven Birds, Hans had to do some extensive reworking of these songs to bring them into today’s age. Spiderweb Train is  the albums longest track at over fifteen and a half minutes. This means it has lot of room for improvisation and for the various parts to emerge. There’s an almost Gothic tone in places and parts that really makes it an interesting and exciting track.

This is followed by the album’s last long track, Songs In Our Hands at just shy of Thirteen minutes, before the shorter title piece Sommargryningsljus. The former track features some very impressive vocals from both Patrick Lindqvist and Aleena Gibson, along with some great synth lines from Hans Lundin, another excellent track from the band. The album closes with a longer take of Sommargryningsljus, allowing the full version of the song to be heard as it was originally envisaged.

The album takes us on an interesting journey through the dark and the early hours before dawn with dawn finally emerging and the darkness falling away. The first two tracks representing Twilight and the last two representing Dawn. As always the artwork is excellent and definitely fits the theme of the album well.

Overall, this is another excellent album from Kaipa who are now a studio band only as they have finished with live performances now. Fans of symphonic progressive music will find much to enjoy herein, it is a wonderful release that is most definitely worthy of investigation.

Released 28th June, 2024.

Pre-order the album here:

Sommargryningsljus (lnk.to)

WE ASCEND – THE DEBUT EP FROM EX-ANATHEMA FRONTMAN VINCENT CAVANAGH’S NEW PROJECT THE RADICANT

DEBUT SINGLE ‘ZERO BLUE’ OUT YESTERDAY / 12” VINYL EP RELEASED 12TH JULY ON KSCOPE

Vincent Cavanagh’s ‘The Radicant’ project showcases the adept musicianship and expressive voice that he honed over 11 albums with the legendary alt-rock band Anathema. This year, Cavanagh will share his first music under The Radicant moniker with the highly anticipated debut EP We Ascend. Today, Kscope are excited to share the first single from that EP – ‘Zero Blue’.  Speaking on the new single, Vincent shared “I’ve waited for this day for a long time. After years of composing with (and for) visual artists, I’m excited to release my own music as ‘The Radicant’. Big love to the Kscope fam and everyone involved.”

WATCH THE NEW VIDEO FOR ‘ZERO BLUE’

STREAM/DOWNLOAD ‘ZERO BLUE’

The Radicant – Zero Blue (NSS Mix) (orcd.co)

The We Ascend EP will be available on classic black 12” vinyl from 12th July.

PRE-ORDER WE ASCEND 12” VINYL EP

The Radicant – We Ascend EP – out 12 July (lnk.to)

The Radicant embodies Vincent Cavanagh’s artistic philosophy. Inspired by a term used in botany and by art curator Nicolas Bourriaud, “radicant” describes organisms that create their roots gradually as they advance, allowing species to mobilize, adapt, and grow on any surface. The EP’s polished production is owed to the close collaborative relationship between Cavanagh and critically acclaimed French producer Ténèbre. Mastering by Sam John at Precise Mastering adds to the immersive experience, evoking vivid imagery and serving as an ideal accompaniment to the visual creations anticipated in a live performance setting. 

Currently, Vincent is collaborating on Homecoming, an interactive mixed-reality installation and dance performance with Georgia Tegou and visual artist Kristina Pulejkova, set to debut in selected theatres in 2025. 

Vincent Cavanagh is currently in the studio working on his debut album as The Radicant, set for release next year.

Interview with Hans Lundin of Kaipa – John Wenlock-Smith

John Wenlock-Smith asks the questions of Hans Lundin ahead of the release of Kaipa’s new album ‘Sommargryningsljus’.

JWS: The album appears to be a cycle of songs that encompass the day shifting to dawn and beyond. Can you explain more about this?

HL: I had written all the songs for the album and the total playing time was seventy minutes, but then something unexpected happened. One day when I was recording with Aleena Gibson, we took a break and went out into my garden to have a cup of coffee. Suddenly Aleena started singing some notes and I said it was beautiful. Okay, let’s write a song, she said. So we returned to the studio and fifteen minutes later a new song had been born. We were both delighted with the result and said that this song must be on the album and the lyrics must be in Swedish. I developed the song and created an interlude built on the same chords. The melody was hovering around in the studio and it landed gracefully in my fingers when I started to play. One early morning a few weeks later, the words suddenly came floating down and landed in my consciousness.

I decided to split the song into two parts ”Sommarskymningsljus” which is about dusk, when the sun goes down and use it as the opening track of the album. The second part ”Sommargryningsljus” (Summer dawn light) is used as the closing track. I thought it was a good idea that felt logical because several of the songs are about dusk and dawn. One song “Chased by Wolves and Burned by the Sun” takes place at night when you can’t fall asleep. So you could say it’s a journey from dusk to dawn even though that wasn’t my intention when I originally wrote the songs.  

JWS: The album title ‘Sommergryningsjus’ is obviously in your own language but what does it mean?

HL: Summer dawn light.

JWS: You really like long songs, as do I, why is that do you think?

HL: I never decide in advance how a song should be. Songwriting is an exciting and unpredictable journey. Sometimes it’s just a little excursion that results in a short little song. But often the imagination takes me on a longer exciting journey and then it becomes a long song.

JWS: A couple of tracks were apparently old ideas that you have restored and developed, were you happy with them?

HL: The basic structures of two of the songs on the album (Seven Birds & Spiderweb Train) were originally written in the late 90’s. The same period as the songs for Kaipas comeback album Notes from the past (2002) were written.

I found two old long instrumental songs that I really liked. I only had the songs mixed on a cassette tape. At the time when they were recorded, I used an Atari computer and the Logic program Notator where I could record midi-files addressed to all my different keyboards. The songs were saved on a floppy disc. I managed to transfer these midi-files into my modern recording system and slowly I could build up these old songs again. I had to dust off a couple of old synthesizers, that had not been used for many years, to find some of the original sounds I used at that time. I edited the songs, removed some parts and wrote some new bridges.

I also decided to use some of the instrumental melodies as vocal tracks and wrote lyrics. One of the songs was called Seven Birds and it inspired me to write lyrics where I could keep the title intact. Some of the synthesizer solos on these tracks are actually recorded in the 90’s. Working with these songs was really fun and inspiring and I felt I was building a bridge between the past and the future, the old and the new. This is the 10th KAIPA album on Inside Out and I think it’s logical to celebrate this with two songs that are like a melting pot, born some 25 years ago and dressed up for success today.

JWS: The artwork for the album is very impressive, does it play a role in telling the stories of the album?

HL: I always try to make a cover that harmonizes with the music on the album. Something you can look at and dream away with while listening to the music.

JWS: Kaipa seem to have burst of activity and then a break, why is that?

HL: When I started Kaipa in 1973, we started from scratch. At that time, no one had heard of the band and we began a long journey towards success. Three years later we had recorded two albums and became Scandinavia’s leading progressive rock band. We did over five hundred concerts, recorded three more albums and continued until 1982. At that time the conditions had changed as people showed more interest in punk and synth groups. So we decided to take a break. However, a reunion never happened and it wasn’t until 2001 when I decided to record a new album that chapter two of Kaipa’s history began.

During the 80’s I continued to write music and released three solo albums: Tales (1984), Visions of Circles of Sounds (1985) and Houses (1989). In 2019 the 6-cd box “Hans Lundin: The Solo Years 1982-1989” was released where the three albums are included remastered + three albums of previously unreleased material also including some Kaipa demos.

JWS: Aleena has such a unique voice, where did you find her?

HL: When we recorded the album “Notes from the Past” in 2001, there was a song I had written, “A Road in my Mind”, that was supposed to be performed by a woman. I asked Patrik Lundström if he knew anyone who could sing it. He returned a few days later with Aleena and when she started singing all the pieces fell into place. That’s how it started and she became a permanent member of the group. We have now collaborated for 23 years.  

JWS: Your music is beautifully layered and very harmonic. It’s classic symphonic progressive rock, it must take a while to plot each track, do you follow a process or is it just intuition?

HL: I usually say that the melodies come knocking on my door and ask me to take care of them. It’s a special feeling when a melody comes out of nowhere and lands in my consciousness. Often it is a long process from the small melody to the finished piece of music. Usually, I continue to make small fine adjustments in the arrangements until it’s time to record.

JWS: What’s next for Kaipa? any live activities planned?

HL: The last Kaipa concert was in December 1982. Kaipa is now a studio project and we never play live. This summer I celebrate my sixtieth anniversary as a musician. I am now an old man and I can look back on many highlights of my life. I am happy when I get inspiration and can create new music and that I have the privilege to collaborate with some of the world’s top musicians. What more could I wish for.

‘Sommergryningsjus’ will be released on 28th June, 2024.

Pre-order the album here:

Sommargryningsljus (lnk.to)

Review – Patchwork Cacophony – Hourglass

Patchwork Cacophony is the solo project of Gandalf’s Fist, Fusion Orchestra 2 and Broken Parachute keyboard player Ben Bell. It has released two previous albums, 2014’s self-titled debut and 2016’s ‘Five of Cups’. 2024’s ‘Hourglass’ resumes that musical journey with a blend of familiar Patchwork Cacophony sounds along with elements more reminiscent of later work with Gandalf’s Fist and Broken Parachute.

‘Hourglass’ features four long tracks woven together by shorter pieces and, like many prog rock albums, is intended to be listened to as a whole. As with previous albums it is a largely solo endeavour, though this time drums are provided by James Chapman and there is a cameo synth solo by Drifting Sun’s Pat Sanders.

If you’re a fan of modern progressive rock, along the lines of Big Big Train, Cosmograf and the like then you will hear that in the foundations of ‘Hourglass’ but it’s not a pastiche of any of that, Ben definitely has his own identity and it comes through very well in the album’s forty-seven minute running time. Unsurprisingly, it is very keyboard oriented and focused and that is no bad thing as Ben is very deft and adept on keyboards, synths and piano and it gives a proper musical grounding to what is a superbly constructed work.

Progressive rock albums are synonymous with tracks of extended duration and ‘Hourglass’ is no exception, with three tracks that run over ten minutes and another that goes past the eight minute mark. When you have a longer piece of music it really has to be good to hold the listener’s attention and every second needs to useful and not just there to fill the song out. Well, on this release, Ben has delivered on every track, they are involving and brilliantly composed pieces of music that work together to create an album that flows exceedingly well and, like all the best progressive rock albums, is better consumed in one sitting, it definitely won’t work for the sound bite Spotify generation, that’s for sure.

The shorter pieces link the longer tracks perfectly and are well written pieces of music in their own right, Wake Up opening the musical journey perfectly, like a beautiful sunrise on a new day before the energetic Carpe Diem takes up the reins with a blast of Ben’s piano and keyboards amid promises of what is to come. There’s a jaunty feeling to the track as it speeds along, Ben exhorting us to seize the day and make it our own with his distinctive vocal having a strident, almost demanding tone. The keyboard runs are quite majestic and the whole song is just one emotional high. Perspective I has a sombre note to it, the elegant piano calming your very soul as it leads into Blind Faith, another upbeat song that this time has a more edgy feel to it, engendered by some fiery guitar playing and James Chapman’s dynamic drums. To my ears, there is more of a classic rock feel to this track, the vocals, guitars, drums and Hammond organ taking me back to the 70’s. It is perfect classic rock/prog fusion that just works, check out the superb synth and guitar section that illuminates the central part of the song, it’s simply superb and just adds even more to what is already a very fine piece of music.

My Home Is Tomorrow opens in a more subdued manner, the elegant piano having a soothing tone to it before the song opens up with Ben’s wistful vocal adding pathos and an almost melancholy feel. Taking a more symphonic prog route, this plaintive track still delivers an immersive musical experience but has a more serious undertone to it and the keyboards on the song are just incredible with both Ben and guest Pat Sanders firing on all cylinders. Pat’s Moog playing is otherwordly and worth the price of admission alone. Perspective II is like a musical gossamer thread that is blowing randomly in the breeze, ghostly and ethereal. Castaway, the last of the longer pieces, opens with another uplifting piece of keyboard and guitar work, rising sublimely through the early morning mist and just fills you with belief and optimism. It has a feel of Christopher Cross’ eponymous debut album to my ears, the harmonies, keyboards and guitar all feeling rooted in the late 70’s/early 80’s. Music as good as this always tends to leave a huge grin on my face and it’s certainly happening here, what an outstanding track. The album closes with Wake Up (reprise), a moving piece with exquisite piano and gorgeous strings combining to leave a lump in your throat and yet hope in your heart.

Good music should move you at a molecular level and add something to your life, a great album should be immersive and hold your attention from beginning to end and, with ‘Hourglass’, Ben Bell has achieved just that. It is a musical creation straight from his heart and soul and you can feel that in every note and one that I feel everyone should listen to at least once.

Released 1st May, 2024.

Stream or download at bandcamp here:

Hourglass | Patchwork Cacophony (bandcamp.com)

Buy the CD at Patchwork Studios here:

Checkout – Patchwork Studios